Tuesday, August 28, 2012

segregated classes and other nonsense

The beautiful thing about the internet is that people can post whatever they want. So, it's brimming with crazy ideas.  Visit any forum, blog, or Facebook group, and you see people posting their opinions. Some have thought-provoking posts; some have funny posts; some have smart and rational posts; some have political posts; some have religious posts; some have well-researched posts; some have super awesome jiu jistu posts; some have dumb posts; some have deliberately offensive posts; some have posts that just don't make any sense.

There is a lot of good information online, but there is an equal amount of nonsense. So, we have to pick and choose what we get worked up about. This week, someone posted on Sherdog that Ronda Rousey would have won UFC 1. This is an example of someone having a crazy idea. My instructor, a die-hard Royce Gracie brown belt, was rightfully miffed.  But, he acknowledged, it was probably posted by some 15-year-old, typing in his parents' basement. In other words, someone not worth the space in his head that it would take to get upset. If Royce and Ronda were to get  into an octagon together, my instructor knows that Royce would emerge the victor. So who cares what some nit wit thinks?

Recently, there was a discussion on the Facebook page of one of my favorite bloggers, Jiu Jiu, about whether men and women should roll together. Like most serious lady-grapplers, she didn't see how this issue should even be up for debate - of course  men and women should roll with each other. Women are such a minority in jiu jtisu that to segregate the sexes would mean to seriously limit training opportunities for women.  But a couple of guys, who never rolled a day in their lives and didn't know a lick about jiu jitsu, posted their own crazy ideas. But I took them with a grain of salt. Who cares? Fools like those do not deserve any space in my head. They don't even train! Maybe they actually believe the sexist things they say or maybe they are just trying to pick a fight (with women who could absolutely choke them, mind you. Not a great plan). It's easy not to let guys like those get to me, though, because there's no question they have no idea what they are talking about. They are not worth the space in my head that it would take to get upset.

But what do you do when someone who outranks you, someone who unquestionably knows more jiu jitsu than you do, holds the same beliefs? Beliefs that limit your own opportunities to train?

I went out of town a couple of times this summer. And being a complete BJJ addict, I find it very hard to go more than a couple of days without training. So when I travel, I usually find a local BJJ gym and go train there.  

My husband and I showed up at a gym and, as we often do, partnered up to drill together. There were no other women in the school, except one, who was brand-spanking-this-is-my-1st-week- new. The instructor, a Brazilian black belt who spoke better Portuguese than English, pulled me away from my husband to partner with the new girl. This was cool by me. I want women to feel comfortable doing jiu jitsu, and if that means drilling with another female at first, I'm happy to be that person. At my home gym, I often choose to drill with one of the few other women because a) I like them and think they are good training partners and b) all things being equal, sometimes it's nice to work with another lady.

When it came time to roll, the new girl and I were still partnered together. Again, I was happy to roll with her for a round. This was her first week, so I gave her plenty of space and encouragement. There was no point in me smashing her. This was my time to be an ambassador to the sport. Plenty of guys were nice to me when I was brand new and I was happy to return the jiu jitsu karma.

The gym had formed into 2 lines. After the  first roll was over, the instructor told line 1 to move down 1 person, "except the girls." We were expected to stay together.  This happened after every single round - everyone moved onto a new person, except for the 2 of us. And I grew increasingly frustrated. I had to stay with the same brand new person  every single round. Not because we were the same rank; not because we were the same size; not because we were the same level of athleticism; simply because we both were female.

Not only were my partner and I not a good match for each other's skill level, but we weren't a good physical match either.The new girl was petite, while I am a former swimmer, jacked up on crossfit. In other words, I had at least 30 lbs of muscle on her. But, since she was smaller than me and brand new, I was trying very hard to "roll nice," at the expense of my own chance to get a workout. I was getting antsy.

The next time the instructor said "switch," I inconspicuously moved down one person, just like everyone else. But he caught me and said, "no, girls stay together." Then he added, "This is the last round." In other words, this was my last chance to work up any kind of a sweat, but I was only allowed to workout with the new girl.

Reaching a breaking point, I summoned the courage to ask "Can I roll with one of the guys, just once?" The instructor reluctantly obliged. It turned out other people in the class wanted to train with me too, and some stayed after class to do so. I finally got in a BJJ workout, but only after the instructor had left.

This experience bothered me a lot more than the deluded rantings of some guys on Facebook ever will. This was not some idiot who knows nothing about our art. This was a black belt, a class instructor, someone who teaches sound techniques, and someone whose skill level I absolutely aspire to. Someone who was good enough to take up space in my head.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Blast from the past!

I was preparing my computer for a new school year, cleaning out my files to make space on my hard drive, when I found something that gave me pause. I found a practice video of me rolling exactly 2 years ago, in Aug, 2010 - when I was very new to jiu jitsu.

At first this video was hard for me to watch because I never realized how much I sucked -and I mean REALLY sucked. But after a few minutes, I got over myself and it just made me laugh. Of COURSE I sucked. I had been training at my school for only a few weeks, after training at a McDojo for a couple of months before that. So I knew nothing. But the scary thing is, folks at the McDojo told me I was good...and I actually believed them! And now I have very clear evidence to the contrary.

And yes, as my instructor said, I probably learned a thousand things when I first watched this video. But watching it years later, I learned a few more things:

1) Super cool head gear never goes out of style. These days I so casually flirt with cauliflower ear on a regular basis. But I still have the awesome ear protection in my bag, should I ever need it. Better safe than sorry!

2) I had zero natural aptitude for jiu jtisu, martial arts, or generally moving my body on land. Left to my own devices, I would still flop around on the mats like a giant tuna out of water.

3) With regular training, you will inevitably get better. I'm a lowly blue belt, but I am a whole lot better than I was in this video. Regular practice (at a legitimate gym, with a good coach and good training partners) can overcome any amount of spazziness!

So how do you feel when you watch your early matches? Were you a spaz like me? Or do you see some spark of natural talent? 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

seminars vs. tournaments

If you are reading my blog, you probably feel the way I do - that jiu jistu is the most awesome sport in the world (either that, or you read my blog because you're my friend on Facebook. That's cool too). But if you feel the way I do, you probably have a deep appreciation for just how much there is to learn in this art. Jiu jitsu is constantly evolving. And it is well-known that it takes longer to earn  a black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu than in any other martial art.

And that's what attracts me most to BJJ. Even as my strength, speed, and athleticism will inevitably decline with age, I expect that increases in my skill level will more than make up for that. I am 31-years-old now, but I have no doubt that 41-year-old Kim would be able to take my current self in a fight. I have full confidence that 51-year-old Kim would be able to take 31-year-old Kim as well. In what other sport could I say that? I will be able to beat my current self, even when I am middle aged. There is THAT much to learn in jiu jitsu. It is important to note that my current self is a relative newbie, so I am starting at a lowish level.

But all this knowledge comes at a price. Regular training isn't cheap. (Settle down, you. I'm not saying that it's not worth it. Jiu jitsu training is priceless and may even save my life one day). But training jiu jitsu certainly costs more than most gym memberships. But for many of us, even this isn't enough. We want to get more out of jiu jitsu than what we learn on our home mats every week. Many of us compete in tournaments and go to seminars to augment our regular training.

And as much as we would like to, there comes a point where we can't do it all. We have to prioritize. We ask ourselves what is REALLY helping us get better. We were discussing this issue after the last NC women's open mat and my friend Mary Holmes asked the following: "What do you learn more from - tournaments or seminars?"

The answer depends on the needs of the individual. But for me, at this point in time, I learn more from tournaments than I do from seminars. This is why in the past few months, I have gone on a seminar "diet" while I continue to compete as often as I possibly can. My reasons for this are the following:

- At seminars, I get information overload. I quickly reach a point where my brain has absorbed all that it is going to. There is so much information and I come to a place where I just can't process anymore.

- A lot of seminars focus on advanced moves. As a blue belt, beginner and intermediate moves are my bread and butter. When I learn moves that are above my skill level, they are hard for me to digest and basically impossible for me to incorporate into my game. When I learn moves that I can't immediately use, they are quickly forgotten and my money is wasted.

- At tournaments, I learn a ton about my own strengths and weaknesses. I videotape  my matches and review them with my coaches. The feedback I get is directly relevant to my game.

- During training, I roll with men 90% of the time (not wimpy guys mind you, but strong, athletic, jiu jitsu guys). I'm no weakling myself, but when I have trouble pulling off a move against guys my rank, it is very easy for me to attribute my failure to differences in size or strength. Often times, this excuse is valid. But other times, I'm just plain doing the technique wrong. In training, it's hard for me to know the difference. But when I compete in a tournament with other women my size, I KNOW that any problems that I may incur are due to technical deficits. In this way, tournaments keep me honest.

- I love to compete. I always have. To me, tournaments are a lot of fun. Seminars, on the other hand, remind me of school. School is boring. All things being equal, my preference leans toward tournaments.

Which do YOU learn more from - tournaments or seminars? Which do you prefer?